What to do about bullying in the office.
Three tactics managers should adopt to combat employee humiliation, segregation and belittling
There are plenty of movie comedies about horrible bosses who belittle or abuse their employees to the breaking point. Typically, these bosses get their comeuppance in the end and everyone feels justified. Workplaces generally aren’t like the movies, but that doesn’t mean bullying behaviour doesn’t exist and bosses shouldn’t be on the lookout for such behaviour.
A study by workplace consultant Robert Half found that almost 50% of employees have experienced an office bully — not necessarily their boss, it should be pointed out — but 88% of managers feel such behaviour doesn’t or rarely occurs. Clearly, there’s a disconnect in perceptions and, most likely, reality.
Gena Griffin, a regional manager at Robert Half, says bullying can take many forms. Indeed, workplacebullying.org has a top 25 list of bad behaviour that includes humiliating, undermining and segregating an employee. Being aware of these is a good first step, but managers have to do more than just that. Here are three ways bosses can do better.
BE OPEN No one likes to hear employees are having problems, but managers should keep an open-door policy and ensure that any worker at any level feels comfortable in approaching them with any concerns. A company’s expected employee behaviour and any related policies should also be communicated since bullying may not fall under the legal definition of workplace harassment, which is more about preventing discrimination. Managers then have to set the tone of what will and won’t be tolerated. “There is nothing more corrosive to a workplace culture than if you communicate those expectations, but then turn a blind eye to it,” Griffin says.
LISTEN AND ACT Once an employee has made a complaint, a manager has to decide what to do — and doing nothing, it should go without saying, is not an option. Even if it is determined that the perceived bully was not, in fact, guilty, managers may need to make that person aware that their unintentional behaviour is being taken in an unproductive way and provide some coaching on how to soften or change the way he or she acts. An aggrieved employee, meanwhile, may need to learn that criticism is not always the same as bullying. “There is a difference between constructive criticism and highlighting an error with the purpose of humiliation or making the criticizer look better,” Griffin says.
BE PROACTIVE It takes a while for people to feel comfortable enough to reveal that they feel they are being bullied. The best way to avoid bullying behaviour cropping up is to be aware of what’s going on in the workplace so that any potential negative behaviours can be spotted before they become problems. “If there are any potential negative behaviours that managers might be noticing are occurring or are a trend, they can actually intervene sooner and can effectively coach or potentially resolve issues before they have a greater impact on someone’s morale, their productivity, or even retaining a staff member,” Griffin says. Things to look out for include: people who falsely accuse another employee or highlight things that didn’t happen in order to make them appear better; non-verbal cues such as giving a co-worker the silent treatment or intentionally segregating that person; and people who create and perpetuate destructive rumours or gossip about a specific individual. “If you see it, as a manager it’s better not to be waiting for someone to come and talk to you about it,” Griffin says.